Expressing (vs. withholding) forgiveness is often promoted as a beneficial response for victims. In the present research, we argue that withholding (vs. expressing) forgiveness can also be beneficial to victims by stimulating subsequent transgressor compliance–a response that is valuable in restoring the victim’s needs for control. Based on deterrence theory, we argue that a victim’s withheld (vs. expressed) forgiveness promotes transgressor compliance when the victim has low power, relative to the transgressor. This is because withheld (vs. expressed) forgiveness from a low-power victim elicits transgressor fear. On the other hand, because people are fearful of high-power actors, high-power victims can expect high levels of compliance from a transgressor, regardless of whether they express forgiveness or not. A critical incidents survey (Study 1) and an autobiographic recall study (Study 2) among employees, as well as a laboratory experiment among business students (Study 3), support these predictions. These studies are among the first to reveal that withholding forgiveness can be beneficial for low-power victims in a hierarchical context–ironically, a context in which offering forgiveness is often expected.

Additional Metadata
Keywords compliance, deterrence theory, fear, forgiveness, Power
Persistent URL dx.doi.org/10.1080/1359432X.2017.1392940, hdl.handle.net/1765/111359
Journal European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology
Citation
Zheng, M.X. (Michelle Xue), van Dijke, M.H, Narayanan, J, & de Cremer, D. (2018). When expressing forgiveness backfires in the workplace: victim power moderates the effect of expressing forgiveness on transgressor compliance. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 27(1), 70–87. doi:10.1080/1359432X.2017.1392940